In his brilliant “science fictional autobiography” (Astounding Days, which I highly recommend), Arthur C. Clarke recalls a lecture he delivered at MIT.

This was during the 80s, at the height of the Reagan Administration and its so-called “Strategic Defense Initiative” (or SDI, better known as “Star Wars”), which involved putting orbital lasers into space to target long-range nuclear weapons launched toward American soil. Who knows what else the lasers would have been engineered to do that wasn’t put in the public press release (“strategic defense” presumably entailed various methods of offense as well).

Clarke, ever the responsible scientist and humanitarian, said the following in his address:

I would like to refer to my short story, “Superiority,” which in the 1950s was required reading in MIT engineering courses. I hope it still is, because it describes the inevitable fate of all those who become obsessed with technological obscenities.

And here, I regret to say, honesty compels me to be severely critical of Star Wars. I do this with considerable reluctance–even a sense of guilt–because I owe many enjoyable hours to George Lucas. (You didn’t think I was talking about someone else, did you?)

We have already met Darth Vader–and he is us. If we are to survive, we must exocrise the demons of our haunted childhood, and grow out of our fascination with “technoporn”–gleaming weaponry and beautiful explosions. Whatever new armaments may be needed to preserve peace in the immediate future, in the long run only political solutions can save us.

Today, easily half the media coverage of the strife in Iraq focuses on the cool factor of all the military’s high-tech gadgetry. How are tricked-out Apache helicopters and Patriot missiles fundamentally different from the gorgeous, glittering space armadas to be seen in Star Trek, or the Millennium Falcon, or anything from the “Terminator” films? It’s all what Clarke so eloquently called “technoporn.”

And beneath the precise hum of all this sleekly beautiful, deadly machinery–metal, plastic, flesh and blood–is the ominous, ancient growl of war, of overgrown children with expensive playthings, and of human forgetfulness.

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